The African heart of Brazil is known for Candomblé, a mashed up religion sprinkled heavily with African elements. The Salvadorian music scene is also distinctly African and, it is said, Salvador carnivals are the best in the country.
I got here by bus. Flights aren't too unreasonably priced and, during low season, come close to the cost of the bus fare. But, so close after carnival, the only real option was wheeled transport, for the 31 hour journey up north.
The scenery, though, is gorgeous but also very recognizable. At first, part South African mountain ranges, part French alps in summer, the villages consist, in a fashion similar to what you can find in rural Spanish or French little towns, of stacked up on top of each other little houses. Except that, here, the houses are often half finished and all have the same cheap, blocky, though often pastel colored, look. Quite like the mountain-hugging favelas in Rio.
Later, with the mountains flattening out and the climate, presumably, drier, the countryside more resembled, first, the green swathes of hills of southern Uganda and, later, the vast veld of South Africa or the great empty spaces of Zambia or Tanzania.
Africa, my home for over eight years, is still haunting me. Or is the Brazilian countryside taunting me?
Also a surprise were the many Volkswagen beetles still quietly performing their duty all over the place. I later learned that only up to a few years ago, these were still manufactured in Brazil.
The old town of Salvador has strong parallels with other cities in former Portuguese and Spanish colonies around the world. The many Catholic churches, the cobblestone streets, the pastel colored houses and the few annoying touts. As a whole in much better shape than its peers abroad, a surprising large percentage of the old town's buildings are in dire state of disrepair, many only having their facades still standing, many others just being empty shells.
It's hard to say whether the city is making a comeback, or is slowly dying, prominence being taken over by the new town, specifically the south of the peninsula. That said, the Pelourinho, let's say the heart of the old town, feels like your perennial tourist ghetto. That is, cozy and pleasant, but also one of many.
Then again, it's said that if you get mugged anywhere in Brazil, it will happen in Salvador. Even though the local police, here, appear much less aggressively dressed than in Rio, not carrying machine guns, some not even carrying guns, they are very much everywhere. And, taking out one of the shared bikes and veering of the main roads, drug use and homelessness was painfully obvious.
Still, even though Salvador is supposed to be the most African of Brazilian cities, I still thought it felt like a forgotten part of Europe. Perhaps with hints of, say Mozambique. Decidedly cheaper than Rio, and more laid back.
Salvador, like Rio, has a bike sharing scheme that costs. Ridiculously priced at 3 euro… per year. Funnily, several of the bike exchange stations are manned by individuals. Instead of being automated, you actually have to check in and out with an individual manning a laptop underneath a makeshift little tented roof.
But, although the bike stations are supposed to stay open until 10pm, the manned ones seem to disappear before 6pm.
Where the jetset go
Some 70km north of Salvador is Praia do Forte. The fort is nowhere to be seen, but it's star attraction now is one of the countries turtle sanctuaries. Surprisingly boring, though some of the turtles are humongous, the best bit were the collection of cute, tiny, turtles huddled together in a smallish little pond.
Praia do Forte feels like a Mediterranean tourist trap; a collection of pedestrianized roads lined with restaurants, cafes and shops selling pointless knickknacks, all hopelessly overpriced.
At the turtle sanctuary, Google street view walked by.
Lounging on the beach, enjoying an ice cold Skol, a fat little black boy, with huge oblivious eyes, stopped by, trying to sell me a bunch of small fishes he had caught in a little plastic cup. 'Peixe?'